Labor rejects calls to cut ties with unions
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Labor rejects calls to cut ties with unions

The ACT Opposition has used parliamentary privilege to urge Labor to cut ties with the CFMEU, after the construction union's ACT secretary Jason O'Mara was charged by the corporate watchdog with cartel conduct.

Industrial relations spokesman Andrew Wall moved a motion on Wednesday that called on Labor members of the Assembly to suspend all affiliations with the union noting the charges against Mr O'Mara, in the same month the Liberal party's former leader settled a defamation case with the former CFMEU secretary.

Liberals Jeremy Hanson and Andrew Wall.  Mr Wall called on Labor to cut ties with the CFMEU, in the same month Mr Hanson apologised to the union's former secretary for defaming him.

Liberals Jeremy Hanson and Andrew Wall. Mr Wall called on Labor to cut ties with the CFMEU, in the same month Mr Hanson apologised to the union's former secretary for defaming him.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Wall told the chamber the "numerous criminal and civil charges" laid against the CFMEU over the years raised "serious questions around whether or not the union is fit to have such an influence over public policy".

"The continued association with an organisation that has been labelled by many as the worst corporate offender in the country raises serious questions as to the appropriateness of this relationship of this relationship continuing and the appropriateness of the influence this union continues to wage over the policy direction of this government and the territory," Mr Wall said.

Liberals leader Alistair Coe went further, saying the "sheer fact charges have been laid suggest to me very serious things are taking place in the ACT".

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He said workplace relations minister Rachel Stephen-Smith's proposed jobs code, which was tabled the week after the CFMEU letterboxed Canberra homes with leaflets accusing her of failing workers, "shows just how strong the cartel behaviour is between the Australian Labor party and the leaders of the CFMEU". Mr Coe was forced to withdraw those comments.

The Greens helped Labor to vote down the motion, with Greens leader Shane Rattenbury saying he saw no problem with the affiliation.

He said Labor's relationship with the unions was "no secret" and was in fact "proudly trumpeted by many".

Mr Rattenbury also said he would not be "lured into" commenting on a case before the courts.

The construction union has vowed to "vigorously fight" the charges, which stemmed from a joint investigation between the corporate watchdog and Federal Police following the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

In 2015, the Canberra hearings of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption heard allegations of price fixing in the Canberra construction industry.

The motion came a day after it was revealed former leader Jeremy Hanson was forced to write a letter earlier this month to ex CFMEU secretary Dean Hall apologising for defaming him.

    In the fallout of the Trade Union Royal Commission, Mr Hanson appeared on the 2CC Breakfast Show to discuss an agreement between UnionsACT and the ACT government giving unions a role in procurement decisions.

    "Do we want people like Dean Hall, who runs the CFMEU, or others who potentially are facing charges or have been convicted of charges, ah, given access to, ah, company documents?” Mr Hanson said on air.

    Mr Hall pointed out this comment was false and defamatory and filed action against 2CC and Mr Hanson in the ACT Supreme Court in June 2016.

    In a letter to Mr Hall dated August 3, Mr Hanson retracted his comments and apologised. A notice of discontinuance is expected to be filed in the ACT Supreme Court this week.

    Mr Coe tried to shut down talk about the defamation case, saying the matter had not yet been finalised. He was overruled by Speaker Joy Burch.